What is Scamper

Guide: SCAMPER Creative Thinking

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Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is an experienced continuous improvement manager with a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and a Bachelor's degree in Business Management. With more than ten years of experience applying his skills across various industries, Daniel specializes in optimizing processes and improving efficiency. His approach combines practical experience with a deep understanding of business fundamentals to drive meaningful change.

The SCAMPER technique is a key tool for creative problem-solving It’s a method that encourages divergent thinking, breaking free from cognitive biases to uncover multiple innovative solutions. SCAMPER encourages looking at problems through a new lens, leading to insights that might otherwise be overlooked. This approach doesn’t just seek answers—it reframes the questions. Whether it’s about refining products or revolutionizing services, SCAMPER’s systematic exploration of possibilities—Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, Reverse—invigorates the brainstorming process, making it a staple in the toolbox of innovators and continuous improvement enthusiasts alike.

Table of Contents

Why Use SCAMPER

The SCAMPER technique is used in various situations due to its simplicity, versatility, and effectiveness in fostering creative thinking. Here’s an in-depth look at why SCAMPER is so widely used and respected:

SCAMPER is great at promoting creative thinking. By using this method for brainstorming, you are encouraging divergent thinking, which is a method of thinking that prompts the generation of multiples to create ideas by exploring many possible solutions. By asking questions that would not normally be considered, SCAMPER pushes us to think outside our habitual patterns.

SCAMPER Brainstorming

When brainstorming or trying to come up with new ideas, we can often get trapped in our ways of thinking, which are influenced by our cognitive biases. The SCAMPER method is a guided approach that helps to break down these barriers and encourage new perspectives.

Another benefit of using the SCAMPER method is the approach to solving problems in an innovative way. Something—the issue isn’t the problem itself, but how we perceive the problem. SCAMPER helps to reframe problems by looking at them from different angles, which can often lead to more innovative solutions

By considering various aspects (like substituting components or reversing processes), SCAMPER doesn’t just find one solution; it opens the door to many, which can be adapted according to the situation’s demands.

Problem Solving

In a world where the only constant is change, products and services need to be continually improved. SCAMPER provides a systematic approach to considering improvements.

By using SCAMPER, businesses can think about the problem from their customers’ perspectives. Such as what can be eliminated that they don’t value, or what can be adapted to serve their needs better?

Product Development SCAMPER

SCAMPER is excellent for group brainstorming sessions, as it encourages collaborative thinking. Different people will have different responses to the SCAMPER prompts, enhancing team synergy.

Since SCAMPER can be used by anyone, it democratizes the decision-making process, allowing for a more inclusive environment where all voices are heard.
SCAMPER Collaboration

SCAMPER is an acronym, with each letter representing a different way you can spark your creativity:

  • S – Substitute
  • C – Combine
  • A – Adapt
  • M – Modify
  • P – Put to another use
  • E – Eliminate
  • R – Reverse

SCAMPER

Lets go into each one in a little more detail:

1. Substitute:

The principle of substitution is about replacing elements of a product, process, or service to generate a new perspective or improve efficiency, functionality, or appeal. This creative strategy challenges the status quo and encourages innovative thinking by questioning fundamental aspects that people often take for granted.

Questions to ask:

  • “What can be replaced?” challenges the necessity of existing components. It’s about identifying what elements are changeable and considering alternatives that can provide new benefits.
  • “Can we use other materials or ingredients?” pushes for exploration beyond current resources. This could lead to discoveries of more sustainable resources, cost-effective materials, or healthier ingredients.
  • “Who else can do this?” prompts thinking about human resources or partnerships. It’s about considering if someone else could perform a task more efficiently, bring a fresh perspective, or target a different market segment.

Example: In cooking, substituting ingredients is common, especially for health, availability, or dietary reasons. For instance, using apple sauce instead of sugar not only reduces calories but also adds a new flavor dimension. Similarly, in a business context, substituting a traditional vendor with a tech-driven solution could result in cost savings and efficiency improvements.

2. Combine:

Combining requires you to merge, integrate, or synthesize separate elements, ideas, or processes, leading to an innovative product or idea that has enhanced functionality or appeal. This strategy fosters lateral thinking and helps in achieving synergy.

Questions to ask:

  • “What ideas or elements can be combined?” encourages identifying different components or concepts that, when brought together, create a new product or enhance a service.
  • “What can be merged to improve the product or service?” directs focus towards enhancing value, functionality, or appeal. It’s not just about creating something new, but something better and more efficient.

Example: The smartphone is a prime example of successful combination. It amalgamates numerous features (phone, camera, GPS, etc.) into one device, offering unprecedented convenience and functionality. In business, combining marketing efforts with non-competitors (co-marketing) can expand audience reach and save costs.

3. Adapt:

Adaptation in the SCAMPER model refers to the modification of an existing product, service, or process, taking inspiration from something else to serve a new purpose or function better. It’s about tweaking what’s already there or borrowing from other domains to create something that meets new demands or conditions.

Questions to ask:

  • “What else is like this?” encourages looking at other industries, markets, or areas for ideas that can be adapted to your situation. It’s about recognizing the core characteristics that can be transferred.
  • “What other context could it be adapted to?” pushes you to think about different scenarios or markets where your product, service, or process could be relevant. It’s about finding new applications or audiences.
  • “Can we change its meaning, color, motion, sound, smell, form, or shape?” This question prompts a deeper exploration into the sensory and physical aspects of the product or service. Minor changes can sometimes lead to a different user experience or open up new use cases.

Example: Drive-through services were initially popularized by fast-food restaurants. However, this model was adapted by various other businesses like banks, pharmacies, and even COVID-19 testing centers. The core concept remained the same, but it was adapted to different contexts and needs, offering convenience and time-saving benefits.

4. Modify:

Modification involves altering the existing characteristics of a product, service, or process. Unlike adaptation, which might involve significant changes or shifts in purpose, modification typically involves more subtle shifts or tweaks. It’s about changing the features, size, quantity, or aesthetics to meet different standards or appeal to different senses.

Questions to ask:

  • “Can we change the item’s shape, look, or feel?” This question focuses on the aesthetic or tactile qualities. A change in these characteristics can lead to a different user perception or experience, potentially attracting a different market segment.
  • “What can be made larger, smaller, higher, or lower?” This is about proportions and scale. Sometimes, changing the size or extent of something can make it more useful, efficient, or desirable.

Example: Automobile manufacturers continually modify cars to improve functionality and appeal. Changes in design lines make them more aerodynamic; alterations in engine size can improve fuel efficiency; enhancements in materials can improve safety. These modifications, though they might seem minor individually, can drastically improve the product’s overall performance and marketability.

5. Put to another use:

This strategy involves thinking about existing products, services, or processes in new contexts or applications beyond their original purpose. It’s about finding new uses for existing items, thereby extending their lifecycle, reaching different audiences, or solving diverse problems.

Questions to ask:

  • “Can the product be used for something else?” This prompts you to think beyond the initial purpose of the product. By considering different functions, you may discover untapped potential or new markets.
  • “Can we use this in another industry or area of life?” This question encourages crossing industry boundaries. Something standard in one area could revolutionize another.

Example: Baking soda is a prime example. While initially used as a leavening agent for baking, its properties make it effective as a cleaning agent, deodorizer, and even a fire extinguisher. This versatility is not just convenient; it’s also sustainable, as one product replaces many.

6. Eliminate:

Elimination is about simplification for efficiency and clarity. It involves removing elements, steps, features, or complexities that may be superfluous, thereby making the product, service, or process leaner and more user-friendly.

Questions to ask:

  • “What can be taken away or removed?” Here, the focus is on identifying components or steps that don’t add value which are those that could be removed without compromising the function or appeal.
  • “Will simplifying it make it better?” This question challenges the notion that ‘more is better.’ Often, simplification enhances user experience, reduces costs, or clarifies the purpose.

Example: The evolution of gadgets shows the power of elimination. Early mobile phones had physical buttons, bulky bodies, and limited functions. Over time, manufacturers eliminated physical buttons, creating sleek, touch-screen devices that are more intuitive to use and offer a multitude of functions beyond calling.

7. Reverse:

Reversal challenges the established order of things, questioning preconceived notions about the sequence, hierarchy, or directionality inherent in a product, service, or process. It’s about turning things upside down or inside out and seeing what new perspectives emerge.

Questions to ask:

  • “What if we do it the other way around?” encourages thinking about what would happen if the order of things were reversed. This can lead to insights about assumptions that are taken for granted.
  • “Can roles be reversed?” prompts thinking about flipping roles in the context of the service, product, or process. This can lead to innovative changes in dynamics and relationships.

Example: The shift from brick-and-mortar stores to online platforms is a clear example of reversal in business models. Instead of customers coming to the store, the store comes to the customer. This fundamental shift has revolutionized retail, offering unprecedented convenience to consumers and global reach for businesses.

How to Use SCAMPER:

  1. Define the Problem or Objective: Start with a clear understanding of the problem you’re addressing or the idea you wish to develop. This clarity is crucial for maintaining focus and ensuring that your creative efforts are directed effectively.

  2. Select a Focus: SCAMPER can be applied to various aspects of a product, service, or process. Decide whether you’re focusing on the functionality, design, delivery method, or another aspect. This decision will guide the subsequent brainstorming process.

  3. Ask Questions: Utilize the questions associated with each SCAMPER element (Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, Reverse) to challenge assumptions and stimulate creative thinking. The questions are designed to push you beyond conventional thinking patterns.

  4. Visualize the Outcome: As you work through the SCAMPER questions, try to visualize the result of implementing each suggestion. How would the product function? What would the user experience be? This helps in assessing the feasibility and potential impact of each idea.

  5. Evaluate and Refine: After the brainstorming session, you’ll likely have a host of new ideas. Evaluate them in terms of feasibility, desirability, and viability. Some ideas may be combined to create more robust solutions, while others may be discarded. The refinement process is about honing the raw ideas into practical, actionable solutions.

By systematically applying SCAMPER, you challenge the status quo, harnessing the power of creative thinking to drive innovation. This method is not about wild guesses but structured, strategic questioning that can lead to breakthrough ideas. Whether you’re improving a product, service, or process, or pioneering something entirely new, SCAMPER can be a powerful tool in your creative arsenal.

Example of SCAMPER in use

The Problem:

Despite rigorous marketing efforts, the latest eco-friendly household cleaner launched by GreenClean Inc. has seen lackluster sales. The product’s benefits and green credentials are not effectively reaching the target demographic of environmentally conscious consumers, leading to poor market penetration and underwhelming shelf presence in comparison to established chemical-based cleaning brands.

Team Problem Solving

SCAMPER Brainstorming:

Substitute:

  • Substitute traditional advertising with influencer marketing, partnering with eco-conscious social media influencers to reach the target audience.
  • Replace generic marketing messages with targeted stories of real-life usage and benefits.

Combine:

  • Combine the cleaner with reusable, sustainable cleaning accessories as a package deal to increase perceived value.
  • Merge efforts with non-competitive brands that have already established trust within the eco-friendly community.

Adapt:

  • Adapt successful marketing strategies from other successful green products that have a strong online presence.
  • Look at other industries, like organic food or sustainable fashion, and adapt their outreach strategies.

Modify:

  • Modify the packaging to be more eye-catching with clear eco-friendly messages and certifications.
  • Tweak the product formulation to include locally-sourced ingredients, which could appeal more to the target market.

Put to another use:

  • Market the cleaner as a multi-purpose product suitable for a range of cleaning needs, not just a single use.
  • Encourage customers to use the empty cleaner containers for DIY projects, promoting a zero-waste lifestyle.

Eliminate:

  • Eliminate complex jargon in marketing materials to make the message more accessible.
  • Cut down the number of product variations to focus on the bestsellers and simplify consumer choices.

Reverse:

  • Reverse the sales approach by setting up pop-up shops or attending eco-friendly fairs instead of selling in conventional stores.
  • Instead of the company reaching out to consumers, create a campaign that invites consumers to share their own stories and reasons for choosing eco-friendly products.

By applying the SCAMPER method, we can develop a range of innovative strategies to improve the market presence and appeal of GreenClean Inc.’s eco-friendly cleaner.

Conclusion

SCAMPER guides thinkers through a systematic exploration of creative avenues. This methodology, embracing seven distinct strategies, transcends conventional brainstorming, encouraging individuals and teams to substitute, combine, adapt, modify, put to another use, eliminate, and reverse their way to groundbreaking ideas. Its beauty lies in its universal applicability, proving valuable in diverse situations, from product development to educational learning strategies.

By challenging the norm, questioning the familiar, and dismantling cognitive boundaries, SCAMPER fosters an environment where creativity thrives and solutions emerge. As we navigate an ever-evolving landscape, tools like SCAMPER become not just beneficial, but essential in crafting the innovative responses required in the face of relentless change.

References

A: SCAMPER is an acronym where each letter stands for an action verb that serves as a prompt for creative thinking: Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, and Reverse. These prompts help individuals or groups improve existing products, services, or processes or generate new ideas.

A: Absolutely. The SCAMPER technique is versatile and can be applied in virtually any industry or field, whether it’s manufacturing, technology, healthcare, education, or the arts. Its universality lies in its ability to foster creative thinking and problem-solving, skills that are valuable in any domain.

A: No, special training is not required to use SCAMPER. However, familiarity with the technique and practice using it can enhance its effectiveness. The key is to understand what each element of the acronym stands for and to learn to apply the principles effectively to various problems or topics.

A: Yes, SCAMPER is an excellent tool for group brainstorming. It encourages collaborative thinking and can generate a diverse range of ideas by combining the unique perspectives of each group member. The structured approach of SCAMPER helps maintain focus and ensures that a variety of aspects are considered.

A: SCAMPER is unique because it provides specific strategies (as denoted by each letter of the acronym) for evolving an idea or solving a problem. While many brainstorming techniques rely on free association or unstructured thinking, SCAMPER imposes a framework that guides the brainstorming process in a comprehensive manner, ensuring a thorough exploration of possible improvements or alternatives.

Author

Picture of Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is a seasoned continuous improvement manager with a Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma. With over 10 years of real-world application experience across diverse sectors, Daniel has a passion for optimizing processes and fostering a culture of efficiency. He's not just a practitioner but also an avid learner, constantly seeking to expand his knowledge. Outside of his professional life, Daniel has a keen Investing, statistics and knowledge-sharing, which led him to create the website learnleansigma.com, a platform dedicated to Lean Six Sigma and process improvement insights.

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